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Shofar FTP Archive File: places/afghanistan/press/Globe_and_Mail.010523


The Globe and Mail, May 23, 2001

Hindus must wear ID badges, Taliban says
Afghan plan condemned around the world;
edict 'chilling reminder' of Nazi policies

MURRAY CAMPBELL
With reports from AP and Reuters
Wednesday, May 23, 2001


The thousand or so Hindus living in Afghanistan are being forced by
the ruling Taliban regime to wear an identity label of bright saffron
on their clothing to distinguish them from the majority Muslims.

The edict announced yesterday -- a chilling reminder of the yellow
Star of David that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany -- was
quickly deplored by the United States as "the latest in a long list of
outrageous repressions" in the country of 25 million.

"This is a chilling reminder of those times. . . . Such laws are never
passed for the benefit of the minority affected," said Keith Landry,
president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

The move, which will also require Hindu women to wear a veil, was
denounced by Muslims in Canada. It also angered India, which has an
overwhelming Hindu majority population, and prompted fears that Hindus
in Afghanistan are being singled out for persecution.

Maulawi Abdul Wali, Afghanistan's powerful Minister for the Promotion
of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, said this latest Taliban edict is in
line with with Islam and that a fatwa or religious order from Islamic
scholars has been sought. The new edict will be enforced once it
receives the approval of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme
leader.

"The non-Muslim population of the country should have a distinctive
mark such as a piece of cloth attached to their pockets so they can be
differentiated from others," the Taliban's Voice of Shariat radio
quoted Mr. Wali as saying.

The decision to mark out Hindus could further isolate the
fundamentalist Taliban, who control more than 95 per cent of the
Central Asian country.

In recent years, Afghanistan's rulers have used a harsh interpretation
of Islam to bar women from most jobs and from getting an education, to
ban all forms of light entertainment and to destroy ancient statues of
Buddha.

The Taliban is under United Nations sanctions for giving protection to
Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, who is accused by the United States
of running a global terrorist network.

Mr. Wali said no decisions had been made about how Hindus would
identify themselves but an Indian press agency said it had obtained a
copy of a decree that would order them to wear a saffron-coloured
patch and to put a two-metre yellow cloth on their houses. Mr. Wali
said the restrictions were required by Islam. "Religious minorities
living in an Islamic state must be identified," he said. However,
other Islamic nations -- including Iran and Indonesia, which have many
minority groups -- do not have any such requirement.

The special edict will be meant only for Hindus, Mr. Wali said,
because there are no Christians in Afghanistan and Sikhs can be easily
recognized by their turbans. (The sole Jew living in the capital,
Kabul, returned to care for a synagogue there after a sojourn in
Israel.)

An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the edict "further
evidence of the backward and unacceptable ideological underpinning of
the Taliban."

Many Hindus, who used to number about 50,000 in Afghanistan, have left
the country in recent years. A spokesman for the Shiv Sena party, a
member of India's coalition government, predicted the Taliban would
use the law to intensify persecution.

"Once Hindu homes and Hindu women are identified, it is easy to rob
their houses and harass the women," he said.

Willard Oxtoby, professor emeritus of religion at the University of
Toronto, said the Taliban's action flies in the face of 1,400 years of
largely peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Hindus.

He said a principle of Islam since its foundation in the seventh
century has been to tolerate other religions, such as Christianity and
Judaism.

Muslims came to terms with Hinduism when they penetrated the Indian
sub-continent, he added, and Hindus were included in this category of
protected persons, known as dhimmi.

"In general, this [edict on clothing] represents a departure in terms
of intolerance of a minority," Prof. Oxtoby said. "Most Muslims
worldwide will not wish to identify with this policy."

The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada denounced the Afghan rulers
yesterday. "Taliban are creating a very intolerant religion in the
name of Islam and Muslims will not tolerate this," said spokesman Syed
Soharwardy in Calgary.

The Taliban move carries a special poignancy for Jews, who were forced
to wear a yellow Star of David in Germany and its occupied possessions
after 1935.



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